Couple challenge plan for forestry near Marble Arch Caves

Francis and Anne Marie Cassidy, who live 100m from site, say lands being used ‘sensitive’

A couple has brought a legal challenge to permission being granted for afforestation on what they say are extremely sensitive lands close to their home near the Border in Blacklion, Co Cavan. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

A couple has brought a legal challenge to permission being granted for afforestation on what they say are extremely sensitive lands close to their home near the Border in Blacklion, Co Cavan. File photograph: Bryan O’Brien/The Irish Times.

 

A couple has brought a legal challenge to permission being granted for afforestation on what they say are extremely sensitive lands close to their home near the Border in Blacklion, Co Cavan.

The High Court heard initial tree planting works have begun on the 6.9 hectare site, which is in an area known for its extremely rare underground limestone paving, which extends to the UNESCO Global Geopark site of the Marble Arch Caves in Co Fermanagh.

It follows decision last February by a Forestry Appeals Committee, appointed by Minister for Agriculture, to grant permission to Greenbelt Ltd and Michael and Mary Maguire, of Monragh, Blacklion, for the afforestation plan.

Two other local residents, civil servants Francis and Anne Marie Cassidy, objected to the plan on several grounds. Their family home is 100m from the site and will directly look out on to it.

They were granted leave to bring judicial review proceedings over the decision against the committee, the Minister and the State, with Greenbelt and the Maguires as notice parties. It followed a one side-only-represented application by Michael O’Donnell BL, for the Cassidys.

Mr Justice Charles Meenan also granted a stay on works on the site and adjourned the matter to June.

Upheld

The court heard the Minister initially approved the scheme and this was upheld by the committee despite objections from the couple.

The Cassidys say they only became aware of the original application, lodged in April 2017, many months afterwards through a third party.

They argue that the public notification system was inadequate and there had been a failure to comply with EU regulations in this regard.

They say the Minister failed to apply the appropriate tests, as required by EU directives, as to whether the project required an environmental impact assessment.

The Minister also purported to carry out an appropriate assessment screening but an ecologist’s report on it contained “fundamental errors”, they say. The assessment was limited to a “box ticking exercise” and also erroneously referred to a site with a similar name in Donegal, it is claimed.

Erred

The committee should have dealt with the appeal over the Minister’s decision as a new case rather than just reviewing the original decision, they say, and the committee erred in law in approving the decision in circumstances where the Minister had confirmed there was a possibility of an effect on a conservation site.

The lands lie within an area which is identified as one for special protection under the Cavan County Development Plan and contains a number of public rights of way which traverse through the site, they say.

They are also near the Cavan Burren Park, the Stairway to Heaven Cuilcagh Walking Trail and the Cavan Way, which are areas of very significant geological, hydrogeological, botanical and ecological significance.